Article from the May 2005 edition, the Socialist
paper of the Socialist Party, the CWI in Ireland.
GAMA workers win major concessions
by Kevin McLoughlin
THE STRUGGLE by Turkish workers at GAMA Construction has been an inspiration to workers throughout Ireland and around the world. Their struggle shows up all that is rotten about the society we live in. It also shows the tremendous generosity of spirit, willingness and capacity of working class people to fight exploitation and oppression even when the odds are against them.
At the time of writing the struggle continues but it has entered a new phase. Having won major concessions from GAMA through their strike, (with workers with three years service getting up to 40,000 and some with longer service getting up to 60,000) the workers have decided to focus on pressurising the state to force GAMA for full payment of their outstanding money.
When the workers went on strike on 4 April their key demands were: n Payment of the 40 million of their wages discovered in secret bank accounts in the name of each worker in Finansbank, Holland.
n That GAMA immediately establish proper wage payment procedures and pay the proper registered employment rates.
n The small number of fixed rate workers, for whom there was no money in Finansbank be paid equivalent amounts as the other workers.
n That GAMA pay the tens of millions owed for the huge amount of overtime that they forced the workers to endure, on average 84 hours a week.
So far the workers have forced GAMA to pay over all the money from Finansbank in Holland. They have forced GAMA to change its methods of wage payment and to pay the registered rate of 12.96 per hour up from 2.20 an hour! They have also forced GAMA to make a payment to the fixed rate workers, amounting to 40% of their demand. The battle will continue until the fixed rate workers are given substantially more and all the workers are paid for the overtime they have worked.
Out of the 900 Turkish workers employed by GAMA in Ireland, approximately 350 went on strike. While the main sites in Ballymun and Balgaddy in Dublin were closed, the sites at Ennis and Tynagh continued working. In both of these sites 40 workers joined the strike but that left over 100 still working in Ennis and over 400 at the Tynagh power station, GAMA's key project in Ireland at this time. The 40 protesters in Tynagh were physically forced out of the site by management thugs and a reign of terror was used to intimidate other workers on both sites.
Despite efforts including protests and pickets, it proved difficult to involve more of the workers in Ennis and Tynagh in the dispute. The vast majority of these workers did not oppose the dispute, in fact many kept in close and friendly contact with the protesters. But they were very nervous of GAMA and what they would do if they got involved. At the same time GAMA also gave them the concessions that the strikers had won, which meant they benefited from the strike even though they didn't participate. Unfortunately instead of joining the dispute to try to win all of the demands, they wrongly decided to sit tight. If the strike had developed amongst a significant portion of the workers at Tynagh, it is possible that the pressure on GAMA would have forced them to make more concessions, particularly on the overtime. Tight security made communication with these workers difficult yet a leaflet in Turkish was gotten into both sites over the May Day weekend but it wasn't possible to overcome the workers hesitations.
Union leaders fail GAMA workers
Besides the notable exception of the GAMA strikers, the Dublin Council of Trades Unions May Day March was a shocking indictment of the trade union leaders. It is ironic while the GAMA strikers made the May Day March in Dublin worthwhile for some left and union activists, have not been given the solidarity they needed from the tops of the unions in the construction industry.
The majority of GAMA workers have been in SIPTU for many years. Their lack of serious action on behalf of these workers has been disgraceful and is clearly recognised by the GAMA workers themselves. Around 40 GAMA carpenters were signed up to the Building and Allied Trades Union (BATU) early on in the strike with a real expectation, given the traditions of BATU that they would get serious backing from that union. Rank and file activists in both unions gave very important support and assistance. But in the make or break task of influencing Irish workers on the GAMA sites to take solidarity action in support of the GAMA workers, particularly at Tynagh, and in trying to force suppliers to stop deliveries to GAMA sites, SIPTU and BATU unfortunately did very little.
Having themselves forced as much as they could directly from GAMA as a result of their own industrial action, the workers have been forced to shift tact because the union leaders didn't attempt to shut down the Tynagh site.
Having fought hard in very difficult circumstances some of the workers have returned home with some of their stolen wages repaid. Many of the workers have remained and with the Socialist Party, are determined to continue the fight against GAMA's robbery. We will continue to try to increase the pressure on the state to act against GAMA and the remaining issues are likely to be brought to the Labour Court and possibly civil courts.
The nature of the exploitation at GAMA shows that the drive to claw back the gains that construction workers achieved in Ireland is well under way and that it is crucial that union activists force their leaders to organise and fight to end the exploitation of migrant workers, otherwise the conditions and pay of Irish workers will be pushed back. The GAMA workers struggle has opened the door for a real fight by the trade unions against the exploitation of migrant labour.
This struggle has once again exposed the union leaders and shows the necessity for union activists to organise to get rid of this bureaucracy who have either accepted the bosses and government's agenda or because of demoralisation, are a block to organising to defend workers rights. The overwhelming lesson from the GAMA dispute is extremely positive, that even in very difficult conditions, these workers are prepared to struggle and have won win major concessions from a brutal multinational company. The dispute is continuing and all Irish workers are indebted to the GAMA strikers for their heroic stand for workers rights.